When Franklin & Marshall College began modifying its business course curriculum more than a decade ago to include the liberal arts, academic foundations seeking to blend humanities with traditionally professional fields took notice.
In December, F&M learned that it and two collaborating institutions — Bucknell University and the University of Pennsylvania — have received a $280,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation to continue work that resulted in the creation of the Business, Organizations & Society (BOS) major.
"It's a collaborative initiative, aimed at bringing liberal arts content, skills and pedagogies to the study of business," said F&M Professor of Legal Studies Jeffrey Nesteruk, a leader of the three-year project. "The outcome is a toolkit of insights, models and perspectives designed to help people who want to make links between liberal arts and the professions. That's at its core."
Additionally, F&M is receiving a $50,000 gift from an alumnus to augment the project. Howard Jamner '77, a retired business owner and proponent of liberal arts education as a springboard for success, made the gift through the Jamner Family Foundation.
Through his own experiences and those of his children, Jamner said he understands the importance of supplementing a strong business acumen with core liberal arts skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and clear writing.
The Teagle grant and Jamner's gift will allow F&M to develop or revise nine courses or course modules linking business with the liberal arts, said Nesteruk, who serves on the Aspen Institute's Undergraduate Business Education Consortium Advisory Committee. "It was through this consortium that we got the attention of the Teagle Foundation," he said.
When F&M transformed its traditional business administration department to the cross-disciplinary BOS, it piqued the interest of the Carnegie Foundation.
"Carnegie did a three-year national study called the BELL study — Business, Entrepreneurship, Liberal Learning," Nesteruk said. "They focused and highlighted institutions that were doing this particularly well, and F&M was one of the institutions focused on because of BOS."
That attention prompted the Aspen Institute to invite F&M to join its business education consortium. Aspen will disseminate nationally the work of F&M's collaboration with Bucknell and Penn.
"Each of us is taking a particular approach to linking business and the liberal arts given our institutional culture, but we're going to be able to share and cross-pollinate in important ways," Nesteruk said.
In March 2017, F&M will conduct a symposium that will bring together the faculty from the three schools.
"We are going to assess not only whether students learn new things in new ways, but we are going to assess faculty perceptions of each other and their ability to form relationships across these divides," Nesteruk said. "We are going to look at how faculty attitudes toward both business and the liberal arts evolve in this situation."
Associate Professor of Biology Timothy Sipe and Assistant History Professor Laura Shelton have agreed to be part of a cross-disciplinary, intercollegiate leadership team that will reach out and engage faculty across the curriculum.
"This is an initiative that is looking toward the future of liberal education, and it's also looking to the future of what folks in business and other professions will need to be able to do," Nesteruk said. "Business professionals and lawyers and doctors are going to need a more nimble, more innovative, more integrated style of thinking, and that's something you get from a liberal education."